Delegates to the 19th All-American Council of the Orthodox Church in America were afforded the opportunity to explore a variety of themes presented in His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon’s document, Of What Life Do We Speak?: Four Pillars for the Fulfillment of the Apostolic Work of the Church, in a series of forums presented on Tuesday and Wednesday, July 24-25, 2018.
Each forum was facilitated by at least two hierarchs and a panel of four to five clergy and lay experts in an effort to consider specific themes rooted in the document to encourage an honest discussion with members of the Holy Synod of Bishops in their ongoing deliberations concerning the future of the Orthodox Church in America.
The themes of the six forums appear below, each accompanied by an excerpt from Of What Life Do We Speak.
Forum 1: Titled “Spiritual Life—How Can we Improve Our Personal Relationship To Christ?”—the first forum was chaired by His Eminence, Archbishop Melchisedek and His Eminence, Archbishop Alexander.
“To help us along our path toward healing, the Church has given us many tools to use and examples to guide us. Chief among these are the ascetical and liturgical traditions within which we participate in the Holy Mysteries. The liturgical cycles and hymns of the Church are rich and complex. Yet, there are simple movements that flow within this complexity: ascent, descent, joy and sorrow, praise and repentance. These movements are not dependent on extremes of our external existence, but are provided to bring our hearts closer to Christ in the midst of those extremes” [Metropolitan Tikhon on Pillar 1: The Spiritual Life].
Forum 2: His Eminence, Archbishop Nikon and His Grace, Bishop Paul chaired this forum, titled “Spiritual Life – How Can We Better Care For Our Clergy?”
“If the center of our lives as Christians is the holy Altar of the Church, then the center of our responsibility as members of the Church should be to care for the health of those who stand and serve before that altar and impart to us the Holy Mysteries” [Metropolitan Tikhon on Pillar 1: The Spiritual Life].
Forum 3: “Stewardship – How Do We Properly Steward What God Has Entrusted To Us?” was the theme of this forum, facilitated by His Eminence, Archbishop Mark and His Grace, Bishop David.
“If our Church attendance is simply a routine that we follow, if our receiving of the mysteries is simply an act, if our prayer does not lead to a change in our hearts, then we are failing to give value to our very life and existence and to become authentic human beings; if our life of prayer does not flow into care for God’s creation and the recognition that it as a window to the Creator, then we fail to give proper honor to God Himself; and if we do not guard the patrimony of the Church as reflected in her saints, their experience and their writings, her teachings and her holy mysteries, then we have failed in our sacramental stewardship of that which has been given to us” [Metropolitan Tikhon on Pillar 2: Stewardship].
Forum 4: Facilitating this forum—the theme of which was “Relation with Others—How Can We More Effectively Communicate And Interact with the World, North America, Non-Orthodox Groups And The Community”—were His Eminence, Archbishop Irenee and His Grace, Bishop Daniel.
“The Church has always had an ambiguous relationship with the surrounding culture and the society within which she sojourns. Much has been written and recommended about the proper balance for this relationship, and much more will be written and recommended in the future. But we ought to consider the experience of Saint. Mary of Egypt, who, though she left the world and , in fact, did not encounter any humans or even animals for 47 years, yet is compelled to ask Zosima about that very world and its inhabitants and leaders” [Metropolitan Tikhon on Pillar 3: Relations with Others].
Forum 5: “Evangelization – How Can We More Effectively Establish Missions and Revitalize Our Churches” was the theme of this forum, chaired by His Eminence, Archbishop Benjamin and His Eminence, Archbishop Michael.
“With realistic statistics, there are about 1,000,000 Orthodox in the United States, which is a very small fraction of the 325,000,000 people in that country. In North America, the population is 500,000,000. It is time for us, as the Orthodox Church in America, to develop a strategy that will enable us to expand the mission of the Church, to increase our spiritual life and to share the healing that we have received in Christ. All of the Pillars are interrelated and interdependent. But there is one in particular, this one, which is impossible to implement or act upon without some effort in the other three Pillars. There can be no missionary outreach, no way to reach those who are broken, without our having first entered into the arena to become a genuine person in the image of Christ, without exercising good stewardship and without serving as a good witness to the world. It is here that we fulfill most clearly our Apostolic ministry” [Metropolitan Tikhon on Pillar 4: Outreach and Evangelism].
Forum 6: The final forum, “Evangelization – How Can We More Effectively Reach Our Parishioners?” was facilitated by His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon; His Eminence, Archbishop Nathaniel; and His Eminence, Archbishop Alejo.
“The unfortunate reality is that we have too often abandoned our young people and failed to provide them with the nourishment – intellectual, emotional, and spiritual – to help them face the world, let alone find life within the world. The more we ask ourselves: ‘why have our children left the Church?’, the more we confirm that we have failed, not merely to keep them in the Church, but to have meaningfully engaged with them as human persons in the image of Christ. I would suggest that this is because we have simultaneously failed to understand ourselves what it means to be a person in the image and likeness of Christ, what it means to be a Christian, and how to find healing and salvation in Christ” [Metropolitan Tikhon on Pillar 4” Outreach and Evangelism].
Finally, forum participants were encouraged to take all that they had “seen and heard” in the gatherings to return to their communities with a renewed commitment in the spirit of Philippians 4:9: “Those things, which you have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen… do, and the God of peace shall be with you!”